The Lies of the Restorationists: a false spirit of Vatican I
The restorationists are those who wish to wipe away everything since Vatican II, and return to an alleged past version of the Catholic Church. However, what they imagine the Church to have been in the past is merely their own misconception. The Church has never conformed to the ideas newly-proposed by these restorationists, under the false pretext of returning to the past. So they are called restorationists after their own claim to restore the past glory of the Church, as they sometimes phrase it. But the glory of the Church is ever-present, and what they call the Church’s past glory was never Her glory at any time. For they glory in schism and heresy, but the Church is ever indefectible.
What the restorationists call “the false spirit of Vatican I” is nothing other than the ancient and constant teaching of Popes, Councils, Fathers, Doctors, Saints, Cardinals and Bishops: that the Roman Pontiff has supreme authority as the Vicar of Christ, when exercising the Keys of Peter, over both doctrine and discipline. No recourse to any authority on earth, not even to an Ecumenical Council (or “imperfect Council”) is valid. And the Pope is protected, in his exercise of this supreme authority, which admits no appeal, by the charism of truth and never-failing faith. He cannot err gravely in doctrine or discipline when exercising the Keys; he cannot fail in faith by apostasy, heresy, schism, or idolatry. For the Papal See is always kept unblemished by Christ.
Some limited (less-than-grave) errors are possible when the Keys are exercised non-infallibly. But what is non-infallible does not require the full assent of faith, but only the lesser assent of religious submission. And such errors can never lead the faithful away from the path of salvation. Even so, the non-infallible teachings and decisions of discipline of the Roman Pontiff and of any Ecumenical Council approved by the Roman Pontiff are protected by the grace of God from harming the faithful or the Faith, due to the promise of Christ that the Church will always be indefectible.
The Church, the Roman Pontiffs, and the Ecumenical Councils are innocent of the vicious accusation made against them of ultramontanism. This claim proposes that the Roman Pontiff has been given too much authority, that he exercises authority beyond what God has given him, and that the faithful, adhering to their own understanding of Tradition, can resist, correct, disbelieve, and disobey the Roman Pontiff, without sin. The result of this position is that a group of alleged Catholic Christians reject any decision or teaching of any Pope or Ecumenical Council that is contrary to their own judgment. But their judgment is in agreement with a certain subculture in the Church today, developed by the coalescence of those who prefer conservatism to Catholicism, whose faith is only in their own thinking and in those who think the same way.
The restorationists reject the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, taught by the ordinary universal Magisterium continually, since the earliest years of the Church, and also taught by multiple Ecumenical Councils. They reject the indefectibility of the Church, instead accusing the Church of repeatedly going gravely astray. They reject the charism of truth and never-failing faith taught by the ordinary universal Magisterium and by Vatican I. And when they say “false spirit of Vatican I”, they are merely rejecting the clear and definitive teaching of an Ecumenical Council, teaching in union with the ordinary universal Magisterium. They are not rejecting a false interpretation of the Council, for they never examine and expound upon the actual text of the documents. It is mere rhetoric to claim that a “false spirit of Vatican I” has caused the Church to go astray from, well, from a position that was never the teaching of the Church at any time. Their own modernist conservative views are projected onto the Church in the past, but She never at any time taught what they claim: that the Pope lacks the authority to teach definitively on doctrine, to rule definitively on discipline, and to govern the form of the Mass and the other celebrations of the Sacraments.
The ancient and constant teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium on the Roman Pontiff is documented here, in hundreds of quotes from Popes, Councils, Fathers, Doctors, Saints, Cardinals, and Bishops. And what Vatican I taught is found in full here. Below, I will cover only certain teachings of that Council, which should be sufficient to refute the false claims of the restorationists — who wish to restore the Church to a state that She never possessed, as that state is the wishful thinking of schismatics who reject papal authority and heretics who reject the dogmas of the Church on Popes and Ecumenical Councils.
Pope Pius IX defended the teachings of Vatican I against schismatics and heretics of his day, who similarly rejected the teachings of that Council:
Blessed Pope Pius IX, 1873, on those who write against the teachings of Vatican I: “For these writings attack and pervert the true power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, who are the successors of blessed Peter and the apostles; they transfer it instead to the people, or, as they say, to the community. They obstinately reject and oppose the infallible magisterium both of the Roman Pontiff and of the whole Church in teaching matters. Incredibly, they boldly affirm that the Roman Pontiff and all the bishops, the priests and the people conjoined with him in the unity of faith and communion fell into heresy when they approved and professed the definitions of the Ecumenical Vatican Council. Therefore they deny also the indefectibility of the Church and blasphemously declare that it has perished throughout the world and that its visible Head and the bishops have erred.”
The restorationists today have much the same view. They deny the indefectibility of the Church, by saying that Vatican II, the Popes since that time, Pope Francis, and even Vatican I have gone astray from the true Faith. And while they claim to only reject a false interpretation of Vatican I, what they reject is clearly the teaching of that Council. Not only do they reject Vatican I, but they also claim that the Pope and the body of Bishops taught heresy and led the Church astray by approving of Vatican II.
Vatican I, Dei Filius, on the Council of Trent: “Everybody knows that those heresies, condemned by the fathers of Trent, which rejected the divine Magisterium of the Church and allowed religious questions to be a matter for the judgment of each individual, have gradually collapsed into a multiplicity of sects, either at variance or in agreement with one another; and by this means a good many people have had all faith in Christ destroyed.”
So it is also today. The restorationists publish innumerable articles by anyone who rejects Pope Francis or Vatican II, by anyone who proposes, by his own judgment, a position contrary to the divine Magisterium of the Church, expressed at Vatican I and II and in the Pontificates of all the Roman Pontiffs since that time. The restorationists are not following Tradition, but rather their own judgments and that of their peers.
The Church is indefectible: “Thus She can never cease from witnessing to the truth of God which heals all [Wisdom 16:12] and from declaring it, for She knows that these words were directed to Her: ‘My spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth from this time forth and for evermore.’ [Is 59:21]” [Dei Filius introduction]
Dei Filius chapter 3, more on the indefectibility of the Church:
“2. This faith, which is the beginning of human salvation, the Catholic Church professes to be a supernatural virtue, by means of which, with the grace of God inspiring and assisting us, we believe to be true what He has revealed, not because we perceive its intrinsic truth by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God himself, who makes the revelation and can neither deceive nor be deceived.”
“10. So that we could fulfill our duty of embracing the true faith and of persevering unwaveringly in it, God, through his only begotten Son, founded the Church, and he endowed his institution with clear notes to the end that she might be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word.”
“13. So it comes about that, like a standard lifted up for the nations [Is 11:12], She both invites to Herself those who have not yet believed, and likewise assures Her sons and daughters that the faith they profess rests on the firmest of foundations.”
The Church cannot go astray, not at any time, not during any Pontificate, not in any approved Ecumenical Council. The Church’s indefectibility is most especially seen when She teaches definitively in Ecumenical Councils, or when successive Roman Pontiffs teach in union with the ordinary universal Magisterium.
Pastor Aeternus, chapter 1:
“1. We teach and declare that, according to the Gospel evidence, a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed Apostle Peter and conferred on him by Christ the Lord.”
“3. And it was to Peter alone that Jesus, after His Resurrection, confided the jurisdiction of Supreme Pastor and Ruler of his whole fold, saying: ‘Feed my lambs, feed my sheep’ [Jn 21:15-17].”
“4. To this absolutely manifest teaching of the Sacred Scriptures, as it has always been understood by the Catholic Church, are clearly opposed the distorted opinions of those who misrepresent the form of government which Christ the Lord established in His Church and deny that Peter, in preference to the rest of the Apostles, taken singly or collectively, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction.”
“5. The same may be said of those who assert that this primacy was not conferred immediately and directly on blessed Peter himself, but rather on the Church, and that it was through the Church that it was transmitted to him in his capacity as Her minister.”
The above “primacy of jurisdiction” is what is called “ultramontanism” by those who reject the authority of Popes and Councils in order to idolize a conservative or traditionalist subculture and in order to exalt their own judgment over the authority Christ gave to His Vicar and His Church. Some of these restorationists propose the same error condemned above by Vatican I, that it is not the Roman Pontiff, but the Church — meaning only those in the Church who agree with them — who have primacy, as they are following Tradition, to which the Pope must also be subject. But in this way they deny the dogma that the Magisterium is the sole authoritative interpreter of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. For how can each Pope be subject, not to Tradition itself, but to any proposed interpretation of Tradition by a group that has proven itself to be errant by rejecting multiple Ecumenical Councils and multiple Popes? In this way, they attempt to transfer the primacy of authority belonging to the Roman Pontiff to their little community, which opposes the body of Bishops and successive Roman Pontiff, and multiple Ecumenical Councils.
Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 2:
“1. That which our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of shepherds and great Shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed Apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the Church, must of necessity remain forever, by Christ’s authority, in the Church which, founded as it is upon a Rock, will stand firm until the end of time [cf. Mt 7:25; Lk 6:48].”
“2. For no one can be in doubt, indeed it was known in every age that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, the pillar of faith and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and forever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors, the bishops of the Holy Roman See, which he founded and consecrated with his blood.”
“3. Therefore whoever succeeds to the Chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and he does not abandon that governorship of the Church which he once received.”
“4. For this reason it has always been necessary for every church — that is to say, for the faithful throughout the world — to be in agreement with the Roman Church because of its more capable leadership. In consequence of being joined, as members to head, with that See, from which the rights of sacred communion flow to all, they will grow together into the structure of a single Body.”
“5. Therefore, if anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the Lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.”
The above attached anathema applies to all those who reject the primacy of authority of each and every Roman Pontiff over the whole Church, including over traditionalists, who reject the necessity to be in agreement with the Roman Church, i.e. the Holy See, who reject the dogma that every Roman Pontiff “perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted”. And this is the very clearly stated position of the restorationists, when they claim that this definitive teaching on the authority of the Roman Pontiff over them is merely a false spirit or false interpretation of Vatican I, when in fact it is the dogmatic teaching of that Ecumenical Council.
Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 3:
“2. Therefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.”
“3. In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith, the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd.”
“4. This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation.”
The restorationists deny that each Roman Pontiff has the above-stated authority over the whole Church. They exempt themselves from his authority, by claiming to be following Tradition, by claiming that the successive Roman Pontiffs and the body of Bishops continuously went astray from the true Faith by the teachings of Vatican II and by the subsequent decisions of discipline and liturgical form. They have rejected unity and communion with the Roman Pontiff.
“8. Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the Apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an Ecumenical Council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.”
It is not the error of “ultramontanism”, but rather the definitive teaching of Vatican I and the ordinary universal Magisterium, to say that each Pope has authority “by the divine right of Apostolic primacy” over the whole Church. Note that his judgment on doctrine and discipline “is not subject to revision by anyone”. Yet so many of these papal accusers have judged and condemned multiple Popes, multiple Ecumenical Councils, and multiple definitive decisions of the Roman Pontiffs on doctrine and discipline. The restorationists have strayed from the genuine path of truth. Not only have some of them proposed an appeal to an “imperfect Council” — meaning an alleged Ecumenical Council that would act apart from and in opposition to the Roman Pontiff (which would be, by definition, not an Ecumenical Council), but they also propose that groups of the faithful by themselves can reject and correct the Roman Pontiff when they think that he is teaching or ruling contrary to Tradition. So do they seek to give to themselves the primacy over the whole Church that they deny to the Roman Pontiff.
“9. So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.”
Again, the above anathema applies to the restorationists, who reject the “full and supreme jurisdiction” of Pope Francis over doctrine and discipline. They deny the Pope’s authority over liturgical form, as well as over doctrine, and they substitute the judgments of the conservative or traditionalist subculture for the authority of the See of Peter.
To those who claim that Pope Francis or Vatican II or other Popes or Councils went astray, the First Vatican Council teaches the indefectibility of the Church and of the Roman Pontiff.
“2. So the fathers of the fourth Council of Constantinople, following the footsteps of their predecessors, published this solemn profession of faith:
‘The first condition of salvation is to maintain the rule of the true faith. And since that saying of our Lord Jesus Christ, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” [Mt 16:18], cannot fail of its effect, the words spoken are confirmed by their consequences. For in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honor. Since it is our earnest desire to be in no way separated from this faith and doctrine, we hope that we may deserve to remain in that one communion which the Apostolic See preaches, for in it, is the whole and true strength of the Christian religion.’ ”
The Apostolic See is unblemished by any grave error. So when any Roman Pontiff exercises the Keys of Saint Peter, acting in his authority as the Head of the Church and the Head of the Apostolic See, he cannot err gravely, and even his non-infallible decisions have divine assistance and do not frequently err. Those who separate themselves from communion with the Apostolic See have rejected the faith, doctrine, and discipline of the Catholic Christian religion.
“Then there is the definition of the Council of Florence:
‘The Roman Pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church and the father and teacher of all Christians; and to him was committed in blessed Peter, by our Lord Jesus Christ, the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole Church.’ ”
This full power is not ultramontanism, but rather the constant teaching of the Church in multiple Ecumenical Councils.
“6. For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the Revelation, or Deposit of Faith, transmitted by the Apostles.”
“Indeed, their Apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of Saint Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren’ [Lk 22:32].”
“7. This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of Hell.”
According to the teaching of Vatican I, it is not true that any Roman Pontiff teaches “some new doctrine”. For the Holy Spirit is given to each and every successor of Peter to ensure that they “religiously guard and faithfully expound the Revelation, or Deposit of Faith, transmitted by the Apostles.” Then, too, all the doctors and fathers of the Church have always held that the See of Peter has full authority over themselves and the whole Church; none of them ever dared to rebel against the Roman Pontiff, on the pretext that they understand the Faith better than the successor of Peter.
Notice that the teaching of Christ himself is interpreted definitively by Vatican I, just as it has always been interpreted by the ordinary universal Magisterium, to mean that every successor of Peter has the gift (Latin: charisma) of truth and never-failing faith. This charism is divinely-conferred on every Roman Pontiff, and it keeps the Roman Pontiff never-failing faith so as to deep the Church away from the poisonous food of error. And this charism also helps maintain the indefectibility of the Church.
Since each Pope has the charism of truth and never-failing faith, no Roman Pontiff can teach or commit heresy, and no Roman Pontiff can be guilty of apostasy, heresy, schism, or idolatry. Therefore, such accusations against Pope Francis or against any past Pope or Ecumenical Council approved by the Pope must be a false accusation.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.
Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.
Thank you for this important and well-documented article. It’s sad that some Catholic authors are now either rejecting Vatican I or distorting what it teaches about papal authority. I wonder if you might comment on the case of Fr. Janvier Gbénou, who has been disciplined by Opus Dei and the Holy See for his strong criticisms of Pope Francis. This article by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski seems to hold up Fr. Gbénou as a hero: https://www.complicitclergy.com/2022/07/03/african-priest-responds-to-pope-francis-you-have-scandalized-the-whole-world-several-times-by-contradicting-christian-tradition/
Fr. Gbénou had earlier accused Pope Francis of supporting “situation ethics” in Amoris Laetitia. https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/the-mercy-of-amoris-laetitia-has-evil-consequences-for-the-church-open-letter-to-pope-francis/
If Fr.Gbénou had expressed his concerns in the proper way according to canon 212.3 and manifested the required reverence to Pope Francis and the CDF, I don’t believe there would have been a problem with Opus Dei. The CDF’s 1990 document, Donum Veritatis, allows for the communication of difficulties with certain magisterial interventions in the prudential order. This, though, must be done “in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties” (Donum Veritatis, 30).
Fr.Gbénou, though, seems to have gone beyond raising questions in a respectful way. Instead, he has accused the Roman Pontiff of propagating heresies and undermining Christian tradition. I think you would agree, Ron, that such accusations are not in any way acceptable coming from a Catholic priest. If you have any comments, I would be interested in reading them. Thank you for your consideration.
I agree and I will write an article on that subject. I have seen the claims of that priest, supported not only by Dr. Kwasniewski but also by Rorate Caeli and others.
Have you heard of The Two Patricks from Cookstown, Northern Ireland
They claim to receive direct messages from God.
I wonder what your thoughts are on this?
They are #63 on my list of false private revelations:
63. The Two Patricks (www.thetwopatricks.org) – Patrick O’Kane and Patrick Rushe – claim that the Antichrist is in the world today; claims Christ will return for this generation; claims that the Gospels were written within days of Christ’s death; worldly language and subjects; claimed (April 1, 2005) that Pope John Paul II would be replaced by “one who is not of Me;” claimed Pope John Paul II was overthrown; Patrick claimed (May 13, 2005) “that the pope that would come after John Paul II would be the deceiver, the abomination, the antichrist;” claims that ‘Jesus’ said (May 11, 2005): “The deceiver sits upon the Throne of My Peter” referring to Pope Benedict XVI.
The claim that Pope Benedict XVI is the antichrist is schismatic, heretical, and absurd. The antichrist who rules the whole world cannot be in the world today, since no one has that type of power. Also, the Antichrist does not arrive until after the kingdom of the ten kings has ruled the world for about a century. So the antichrist is in the distant future.
Thank you Mr Conte, what a blessing to have your articles. Long live our Holy Father Pope Francis!